How to Become a Lousy Leader – Lesson 1

My colleague, Dr John Waters, recalls one of his early learning experiences:

“Our Divisional Head, Bryan, was a good person to know socially and acquaintances would often refer to him as ‘a real gentleman’, reflecting his sober, maybe old-fashioned set of personal values. He had a talented group of senior managers who he would proudly tell others he had ‘welded into a team’, and he worked at reinforcing the team climate both at work and socially. As a manager he took a strong hand in setting and controlling budgets, and he was always very willing to help solve problems. Otherwise his team members, of whom I was one, had almost total freedom to pursue their programs as they wished.

For the team members it was a work environment that should have inspired creativity and career development, but it didn’t, and Bryan received only a modicum of loyalty and respect from his team members. What was going wrong? 

What turned his team members off was Bryan’s voracious appetite for personal credit. In management reviews the world entered a reality where the word ‘we’ disappeared and every event of any merit could only be explained through the thought processes and decisions of just one person – Bryan. Team members would look at each other with astonishment as their successful personal programs were reinterpreted so that Bryan, rather than themselves, became the driver of the success. Respect was further lost when the story was supported by new “facts” drawn from Bryan’s highly selective memory. In this reality the team lost any meaning except as the instrument of Bryan’s success.

Team members were disappointed by two feelings – being cheated out of the credit for their ideas and actions, and their career potential and prospects being obscured.”

All of us have probably come across what we have judged as poor leadership. There is no book on the subject but, as a team member, you know it when you feel it. Whether it is a leadership that is abusive, disrespectful, or insensitive, at one extreme, or trying to please everyone at the other, you have probably found that it has one thing in common. The poor leader was unaware or dismissive of how his or her style of leadership stifled the creativity and motivation of team members. In other words, a poor leader usually lacks self-awareness.

Understanding yourself comes first from an effort of self-reflection reinforced by a reality check from a trusted mentor or coach. Qualified professionals offer further help through the use of reliable and reputable diagnostic instruments such as the KAI, CDP, Hogan psychometrics, or 360 degree feedback reports like the Leadership Circle. If you’d like to discuss this further don’t hesitate to contact me:

Mark Rosenberg

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